How Ferguson, Mo., now could help reform public education funding

Aaron Garth Smith:

Historically, the Ferguson-Florissant School District has underperformed. In fact, in the school-year before Dr. Joseph Davis took over as superintendent in 2015, a paltry 16 students took Advancement Placement exams, which help prepare students for college. Although the district has shown signs of improvement, many of its 10,000 students – 83 percent of whom are black – still fall short of meeting the state’s academic standards. For example, just 27 percent of the district’s third-graders are proficient in English language arts, compared to about 73 percent for the nearby School District of Clayton, a predominantly white school district.

Only 10 miles separate the two districts’ offices, yet in 2017-18, Clayton’s received an additional 53 percent in state and local operating revenue. Clayton got $19,513 per average daily attendance (ADA) compared to just $12,755 for Ferguson. This disparity is consistent with the overall funding picture among St. Louis County’s 22 traditional school districts: students in communities with greater proportions of black and low-income students tend to be shortchanged relative to their more affluent neighbors.

The school districts with the highest proportion of black students – Riverview and Jennings – both rank near the bottom in per-pupil revenue and take in less than half of the county’s highest-spending district, Brentwood. Astoundingly, Brentwood generated more than $21,000 per ADA in 2017-18.

Madison has long tolerated disastrous reading results, despite spending far more than most taxpayer supported K-12 school districts – between $18.5k and 20k per student, depending on the district documents reviewed.